Parenting a Child With a Learning Disability

Learning disabilities are puzzling for many parents because of the powerful contradictions in the child’s life. An observant parent may notice a child seems very bright and in some areas, is even well advanced for his age. In other areas, however, the child struggles. Performance is often uneven, with a child remembering math facts well one day and not at all on the next.

Mormon FamilyA learning disabled child is one who has a normal or higher intelligence, but whose ability to learn or to demonstrate knowledge is hampered by the disability. A child may be extremely intelligent and still be unable to read or to do math. In fact, many geniuses and highly successful people have struggled with learning disabilities. When a child receives strong support and counsel from parents, there are few limits to how much such a child can achieve. He can do everything anyone else can do, but may have to do it differently and may have to work many times harder than others to do it. However, this can help a child become creative, develop his problem-solving skills, and create a strong work ethic.

One example of this is David Neeleman, founder of Jet Blue Airways. On a website for an organization called Smart Kids With LD, of which he is the honorary chairman, said, “When I was growing up in the ’60s, not a lot was known about learning disabilities and ADHD. But thanks to the support of my parents and teachers, I’m proof that being learning disabled doesn’t have to hold you back. Sometimes I even think it’s an advantage.”

Children who have learning disabilities often believe they are not smart, even when the signs say otherwise. A gifted and learning disabled child might read Shakespeare before age ten, but be unable to memorize simple arithmetic. They ignore the giftedness and see only the inabilities. Teachers are often poorly trained to work with bright children who have learning challenges, and may believe the child is only lazy. This too can affect the way the child sees himself.

It’s important for the child to understand the cause of the disparities he sees in himself. A label is not a bad thing. It serves as an explanation, and a label of learning disabled is preferable to the very negative ones the child or society might try to pin on him.

Teach your learning disabled child to explain his own learning disability to others who may not understand. The explanation should be short and factual, without embarrassment or excuses. “I have dysgraphia, which makes it hard to write. I can write, but it takes longer and I can only do it for short times, so instead I type as much as possible.”

Accommodations are essential to a learning disabled child’s future success. Today, with so much technology available, there are alternatives to almost everything. A disabled child should learn to read, write, and do math, but should become skilled at figuring out better ways to do something, such as typing for longer assignments, using a special type of pen, or becoming adept with a calculator. A child who has trouble reading will need to spend time reading, but might also listen to audio books in order to learn the content of books that are currently too difficult to read. Accommodations are not cop-outs. They are simply a way of doing something that is different from the way most people do them. There are no rules that say everyone must do everything exactly the same way. At first, a parent will need to create the accommodations, but later, the child should be encouraged to discover his own methods for getting things done.

Help the child focus on what he can do, rather than what he can’t do. If he has trouble reading, help him notice how hard he works at learning to read. Invite him to become aware of other things he does extremely well, such as repairing things that are broken, or telling stories orally.

Invite the child to figure out ways his learning disability is actually a good thing. Does it make him more creative? Is he kinder to others who have challenges? What is good about him that comes about largely because some things are harder for him than they are for others?

As the parent of a learning disabled child, you will need to become his advocate. Make sure his teachers are kind and supportive. Help church teachers learn how to work with him. Be sure he gets the services he requires. In time, teach him how to advocate for himself, so that when he’s an adult, he will know how to fend for himself in this area of his life.

Raising a learning disabled child requires a parent to reach to a higher level as she works out the challenges and adaptations, but it also brings great rewards.

Quick List:

  • <div style=”margin: 0in; font-family: Calibri; font-size: 11pt;”>Give children a name for their disabilities and help them understand what it means.
  • Help children learn to explain their disability to others.
  • Work with the child to create reasonable accommodations.
  • Focus on what a child can do, not what he can’t do.
  • Look for the blessings behind the disability.
  • Advocate for your child until he can advocate for himself.
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